Will Evan Longoria Produce Like a Star In San Francisco?
The San Francisco Giants' had one of their worst seasons in recent memory in 2017, limping to a 64-98 record with little-to-no offense to speak of. They decided to add rather aggressively to their team this offseason rather than opt for a full rebuild, as they acquired Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday for Christian Arroyo, Denard Span and a pair of prospects.
For the Rays, this signifies the end of an era, and it shows that they are open for business and ready to rebuild. For the Giants, it signifies the opposite -- that they are still in win-now mode despite all of their offensive problems last season, and money is not an obstacle. Despite the fact that Longoria provides an instant upgrade for the Giants, just how much of an upgrade is a legitimate question.
A Down Season
2017 was, in many ways, Longoria's worst season in the majors. While his wRC+ says he was just barely below average, his numbers were a far cry from what he has done throughout his career. The chart below puts his 2017 numbers up against his career averages:
His strikeout rate was a little better than his career average, which is obviously a positive. His walk rate was down from his career number, but he has walked significantly less over the last four years (it has not been higher than 8.1% since 2014) than he did early in his career (lowest walk rate was 9.1% from 2008-2013, and he had five straight 10% walk rate or higher seasons in that span), so it is not as far from the norm as it seems.
His wRC+ is significantly worse than it has ever been -- he has never had a wRC+ below 100 in his career until 2017. His OPS is the second-lowest of his career, trailing behind his 2014 campaign. Overall, it was one of the worst offensive seasons of his career.
A Few Red Flags
When you consider Longoria's pedigree and his age, it is easy to envision a bounce-back season in store for the third baseman. But there are some underlying numbers that suggest the struggles may not be so easy to shake.
His BABIP sat at .282 last season, down from .299 for his career. He also made more contact than normal, with his contact rate going up to a career high 81% (up from a career 77%). Couple those two together, and it seems as though Longoria is primed for a bounce-back in the Bay. However, the type of contact he made last season is where his bounce-back concerns lie.
His hard-hit rate was right around his career number (34.3% in 2017, 34.6% for his career), but he made more soft contact than normal (18% in 2017, 14.4% for his career). He also hit the ball on the ground way more than he ever has. He finished the season with a 43.4% ground-ball rate, the highest of his career, and well higher than his 38% career number. That did not hurt his line-drive rate (19.8% in 2017, 19.9% for his career), but it tanked his fly-ball rate. He finished the season with a 36.8% fly-ball rate, well below his 42.1% career number, and the first time it has ever been below 40%.
For the first time in his career he hit more ground balls than fly balls (1.18 ground ball to fly ball ratio), and his 10.5% home run to fly ball ratio is a career worst, as well. Ground balls are the worst kind of contact to make, and Longoria hit them at a record pace last season. That capped his power numbers (his 20 home runs were the second lowest of his career), which caps his overall offensive value.
Evan Longoria may be in for a profile change at the plate, and not for the better. He hit ground-balls more than ever before last season, and if that continues it will likely prevent him from being a premier offensive contributor. The Giants had an awful offense last season, as they finished the year with a 83 wRC+ overall and a 64 wRC+ at the hot corner, so Longoria is a huge upgrade -- how much of an upgrade depends on if his ground-ball trend continues.